The Ethics of Organ Donation in the Light of Plato’s Moral Philosophy
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The current trend in the world today is towards eugenics which may come in every aspect of life. For the societies want to improve and advance their standard of living, they really try their best to come up with a system which could make life easier for everyone. Among the targets of the trend towards eugenics is the development of the healthcare systems as well as the improvement of medical treatments all over the world. With this, organ lottery, as one of the methods used to encourage organ donation, is being pushed before the law and considered as one of the mechanisms that could uplift the quality of healthcare service as well as save more lives.
Plato, applying his moral principle, would agree that organ donation should be promoted among the societies for he believes that in order to achieve an ideal state (369b-427c), every one should accept the principle of communal employment which suggests that there should be no private property inside the society for having such private ownership would motivate individuals to promote above other things their self-interests (423e6-424a2). Moreover, he believes that the truest happiness cannot be found on this world thus everything that is a product of this world should not be regarded as something that would make a person happy – thus eternal happiness is found in the after life (330d-331b). By this reasoning, he seems to encourage everyone to donate or share their possessions to everyone for he or she cannot achieve lasting happiness by simply having them. Happiness has higher degree that must be pursued. By helping others, one is able to help the development of the society, and one is encouraged to move towards the good end of life – and that is towards the eternal happiness; that which not ends. But organ lottery should not be used to motivate people to donate their organs for it is not a product of willingness of a clear thinking but of a desire for temporary form of happiness.
Organ transplant has long been subject of moral debates. While advocates of organ donations argue that terminally ill, or dying patients should consider donating their organs for other patients who badly need an organ transplant, some moralists argue that this should not be permitted by the law for it seems to suggests that potential donors should not hesitate to donate their body organs for eventually they would die and that their organs would just be wasted. Instead of being wastes, organs of those dying patients should be donated rather than not being useful. But moralist strongly argue that one should not be forced to donate their organs regardless of the fact that they would soon die and their organs would be not useful for them anymore.
In some proposed policies, if two patients need an organ transplant and there is only one organ to be donated, the decision would be that the organ would not be donated at all. Other policies in organ donation would include organ lottery in which the beneficiaries of the organ donor would be given a prize for donating their organs. In this case, many would be attracted to volunteer their organs for such program. According to news reported in the Philippines, kidney transplants are negotiated by paying a large amount of money to the donor – such implies a market for selling their body organs for a big amount of money.
Throughout his book the Republic, Plato becomes consistent on his discussion about the ideal city-state. He connects his idea of justice (581e-588a), as his most fundamental notion of moral principle, to all the things that he notes on political issues, epistemological inquiry, and metaphysical themes. At the end of his arguments, he makes it clear that the soul is constituted by three elements: reason, spirit, and passion (also desire/appetite) (443c-e). He uses this description to elucidate his moral philosophy. Though Plato’s ethical or moral arguments have change as he ages, the end point of his moral theory suggests that in arriving at a moral judgment, one should be able to have a clear understanding of it, the spirit and passion should not overcome the person’s rational capability to think and reason out (439e-441c). In this case, what counts for solving moral dilemmas is the ability of one person to make a moral decision through clear thinking and deliberation.
Furthermore, other important elements that Plato employs to formulate such moral criterion for solving ethical dilemmas are the following: 1) as a man lives in a society, he must realize that he lives not only for himself but for the whole state, thus he must live in accordance with what could uphold the well-being of the state, 2) as all the things in the world would not lead mankind to the attainment of eternal happiness, he must learn not put so much value on earthly goods and must not settle for temporary happiness brought by material goods – this include the bodily pleasures or benefits “for body’s sake” (357b), 3) as long as man is functioning well, he must do his best to serve not only himself but also other people for the betterment of the state.
As an analysis, Plato would surely tell that organ donation is good for it benefits the state through its people’s health improvement. In the case of organ donation by terminally ill or dying patients, he encourages that they should do donating their organs if they really want or if they are really willing to donate their organs notwithstanding the fact there are rewards that await them. As stated above, the rational capability of a person to think good and decide for good should not be obstructed or bent by particular desire or whatsoever outside factors which may motivate him to do a particular act but without willingness.
Organ lottery for Plato is not good. It would hinder a person from arriving at a clear and rational thinking. It would motivate a person to do something or to decide for something but not with willingness but with the desire to promote or obtain bodily pleasure which would not give him eternal happiness (358a1-3).
At any rate, there is this great possibility that organ lottery would result threat to the harmonious relationship within the state for the reason that the beneficiary or beneficiaries of the potential organ donor would push the donor against his or her will to donate his or her organ just to claim the prize or the reward that is promised by the government for anyone who is going to donate his or her organ/s. For this reason, the act of donating should be done by will and not by any other factor.
For my personal standpoint, I agree with Plato’s arguments for organ donation and against organ lottery. First, organ donation done with willingness would produce more happiness (not merely temporary happiness but eternal happiness) for a person who donated his or her organs for he or she does not think for any reward or something but does it for the sake of helping and that is more valuable than any other wealth or treasure. Plus, the person who receives the donated organ would be given the chance to extend his or her life thus producing a kind of happiness that cannot be drawn from any material or bodily pleasure. Moreover, organ donation need not be compulsory. The term “donation” explains its very nature – that is an act performed willingly. In short, by donation, any kind of force should not be imposed for such would imply tyranny which is a big no for Plato’s political philosophy.
To summarize the points of this paper, Plato would agree to the organ donation program of the government for the reason that through such the well-being of the state and its people would be maintained. But he clarifies that organ donation should be done with willingness. Thus, he opposes organ lottery for such kind of motivation would create conflict in the interests of the citizens. Plato recognizes the fact that the state would really tend to go towards perfection. However such movement towards perfection could blind the person from doing what is rational and what is practical. To reiterate, he sticks with his idea of the soul and its three elements. The reason should be placed above the two other elements. This means that reason should be used in judging moral dilemmas. Morality for Plato comes from within, thus what reason tells an acting agent would not make him or her unjust or do unethical acts.
To end, it is good for the welfare of mankind to think of the things that would uplift their well-beings. Nevertheless, the path towards such destination should not be put in a hurry. Plato believes that a man is a rational being who uses his reason in everything that he does. Thus, it should be made clear that man’s rational capability could be hindered by outside factors which could weaken the reason in ruling the soul. The only solution to be able to lead the man through the right way of making decisions is to put away or set aside his initial interests not only for his own preservation but for the betterment of other individuals and the state.
Plato & Desdemond, Lee. The Republic. Second ed. Penguin Classics, 2003.